In my world, plants that are both perennial, edible, ornamental and popular with pollinating insects are the most valuable (I term this class of plants edi-ento-mentals) and the Giant Ulleung Celery, Dystaenia takesimana, ticks all 3 boxes! That it can provide winter greens at a time of year when little else is available is its biggest advantage as an edible plant! This plant has been a closely guarded secret amongst a selected few for many years, but is now poised for the big(ger) time! The fact that I’ve written the article below about this plant is thanks to one man, plant breeder Professor Elwyn Meader (1910-1996) who collected seed on its small home island of Ulleung-do in the East Sea between the Korean peninsular and Japan in 1953! Without his generosity and enthusiasm 30 or so years ago to share seeds, we wouldn’t know about one of the potentially most useful permaculture plants! Please download the article below and seek out plants and seed!
When I was away in January, the mildest ever recorded in this part of the world, this bird cherry that I received as Padus asiatica leafed out for the third year running in January, here seen with my only misteltoe (top left):
My only Rhododendron, R. mucronulatum v. taguettii from Jeju Island in Korea is also early out and full of flower buds, so I brought a few twigs indoors:
Platycodon grandiflorus (Balloon Flower), an important vegetable in the Far East, is just starting to flower in the garden. In Korea, it is called doraji. Its root, either dried or fresh, is used in salads and traditional cooked dishes. Young leaves are also used.
See also this video from a doraji farm in Korea: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F7OA9AsZAs0
When I visited Japan in early spring 2016, I noticed a violet/purple flower growing as an ornamental in some gardens and also escaped as a weed.
I finally realized that it was a plant I had grown for a couple of years (2011-2012) as an unusual annual vegetable, Orychophragmus violaceus, known as ‘Chinese Violet Cress’ or ‘February Orchid’, sourced from Horizon Herbs in the US. Despite one of its common names, it’s not an orchid but is related to cress, belonging to the cabbage family Brassicaceae.
It hadn’t grown particularly well in my garden, but it did manage to flower and I used them in various salads during those two years, adding a different colour to the mix and it continued flowering right to the first frosts in November! It was also badly attacked by the usual pests of Brassicas, but it bounced back with masses of shoots from the roots in the autumn when the pest pressure was released. It doesn’t like temperatures below -5C and therefore didn’t have much chance of overwintering here in Malvik (it is biannual in the Far East).
Orychophragmus violaceus has a wild distribution in China and Korea and was introduced to Japan a long time ago both as an ornamental and also as a potential oil seed crop (you can google pictures of it growing alongside rape oil plants). In the wild it has a wide range of habitats from woodlands, gardens, roadsides and open fields. In Japan it has widely naturalized in many habitats thanks to its adaptability and it is now found throughout the islands, encouraged by gardeners who love the early spring flowers. In some parts it carpets woodlands in the early spring and it has been described as the Bluebell of Japan! However it is also a weed in gardens (and as such one of the world’s most beautiful weeds!). In Japan it is known as hanadaikon (“flower-daikon”), which name is also used for Hesperis matrionalis (dame’s violet), ooaraseitou, murasaki-hana-na (“purple-flower-rape”), shikinsou (“purple-gold-plant”). Shokatsusai / zhu ge cai is its Chinese name.
It has also been used as a forage species in China: “Its shoots are rich in protein, iron, calcium and vitamins A and C. Hence it is a valuable forage. Its shoot yield is high, about 36,400 kg/ha, when cultivated in Chengdu. This plant species is adaptable to grassland, barren hills, roadsides, gardens, etc. Its protein content is higher than most other forage plants.”
Orychophragmus violaceus is mentioned as an edible wild plant alongside Udo (Aralia cordata) in Joy Larkcom’s Oriental Vegetables!
There are some great autumn flowering edimentals (or edible ornamentals) in the Asteraceae, and this is my favourite of the lot, Korean Aster or Chwinamul (Aster scaber)….and it’s also very photogenic!
If you don’t grow this and aren’t living in Korea, your only chance to try this is to find the dried leaf on Korean markets around the world. Anyone seen it? Like to send me a packet? Here’s how to prepare it: http://www.maangchi.com/recipe/chwinamul
The pictures are from my garden on 10th October 2016 of a plant that originated from a Korean vegetable catalogue!:
Saxifraga stolonifera is a lover of dark, wet, rocky places in Japan, Korea and China. I saw it several places in Japan during my March / April visit and ate the leaves as tempura, the commonest way of using it in the kitchen. In Japan, it has the “lovely” name Yuki-no-shita, meaning “Under the snow” whilst in English this fairly popular rock garden plant is known as creeping or strawberry saxifrage. It has flowered for the first time in my garden and they are rather special! There are a number of leaf selections (currently 8 available in the RHS Plant Finder in the UK, as well as a large flowered form). A great rock garden edimental then!! Probably not hardy, I will try to overwinter in my cellar!
This was an unscheduled course day for me, my helper Lorna and Berit the camper, as it was a national holiday in Norway and Christian Odberger gave us a short course in grafting and I now have 6 or so new varieties of apples on a seed propagated apple. See also http://www.edimentals.com/blog/?p=4627
There are still many undiscovered (in the west) perennial edibles in the Far East. I’m therefore now concentrating mainly on that area in this quest. This spring I will travel for 3 weeks in Japan as part of this work. Another “country” with a rich diversity of food plants is Korea. With help from my Norwegian / Korean friend Misoni Sandvik whom I mention in my book, and who is on her own quest to find and grow wild herbs she remembers foraging when she was a child in South Korea, I’ve received two books from Korea today entitled “The Wild Greens of Korea” and “The Medicinal Herb of Korea”. There’s often a diffuse boundary between food and medicine in Korea, so the second book is also relevant, including plants like Aralia cordata (Udo)!